Missing accused is latest illustration of a weak criminal justice system

Morning View
Morning View

Every so often a report comes out on Maghaberry Prison in which the authorities come in for criticism about conditions and so on.

This is typically seized upon by elements of the human rights lobby to agitate for the welfare of prisoners.

There have also often been complaints about the allegedly harsh treatment of dissident republican inmates.

In fact there is another story to be told about the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland - that it is hopelessly weak at every stage in the process.

That inmates are well treated and that sentences are soft. Meanwhile the safety of prison officers is at risk.

Last year the News Letter reported extensively on the alarmingly lenient bail policy that operates in the Province, in which people on serious dissident republican charges are routinely granted bail.

That culminated at the end of the year in a man who faces charges in connection with the David Black murder absconding, and police not even noticing for several weeks.

Now we learn that a man who is accused as being part of a murder gang has been accidentally freed.

We have no indication as to how Michael Lawrence Smith, 38, who is charged with the murder of Stephen Carson in what prosecutors believe was a long-running feud, was let out of Maghaberry.

But we do not need to know details to conclude that it is an extraordinary blunder, that must lead to consequences for whoever is responsible.

The only shred of comfort in this disgraceful saga is that he was not granted bail by courts who have proved their naivete time and again.

But as a society we need to send a clear message to our politicians that we expect them to drive reforms across the board that make life more difficult for dangerous inmates or people facing the most serious criminal charges.